Tokyo, the sprawling capital on the east coast of Japan’s largest island of Honshu is a melting pot – or shabu-shabu rather – of Japanese cuisine. There are 47 prefectures in Japan, from the islands surrounding subtropical Okinawa in the south, close to Taiwan and reaching far north close to Siberia, where the northernmost island of Hokkaido sits. As a result, there is considerable diversity in a cuisine that already focuses heavily on seasonality. In Tokyo, it’s easy to get a taster of different dishes and varying interpretations of dishes along with distinctive styles of cooking and use of particular ingredients.
One of the things I love the most about Japanese cuisine is that, for the most part, elements and dishes are distinguishable and can be associated with an era, a place and a story. It also allows appreciation when maverick chefs carefully and masterfully deviate from tradition. Dedication is a common theme in the patchwork of the very eclectic but cohesive culinary narrative of Japan. It’s also a very simple explanation as to how Japanese food is so bloody good. Here is a decent list of some restaurants for the next time you’re in Tokyo. At the very least, it’s a good place to start. Itadakimasu いただきます !
High-end traditional Japanese – Kaiseki, Sushi-Ya
Otoro (Fatty bluefin Tuna) Nigiri at Kanesaka
Nothing is more expressive of the Japanese culinary sensibility than fine dining – minimalism and simplicity conceal complexity and richness. But the most exceptional Sushi-Ya are the single bar, limited seat restaurants at the helm of a sushi master. Very difficult to get reservations. The type of seafood used for the Omakase is dependent on the time of year and availability of the best produce. Specifications are crucial. The best Tuna for, example, comes from Oma in Aomori prefecture. Jiro-san, however claims that only 1 out of 100 of these meets his standards.
Den – Aoyama
One of the top restaurants in the world at the moment. Innovative Japanese cuisine. Very difficult to score a table at.
Shiba Toufuya Ukai – Minato
Dedicated to tofu and done in Kaiseki style. Good reputation. It’s in a 200 year-old sake brewery transplanted from Yonezawa. Not too expensive either.
Sushi Kanesaka – Ginza
There are two and it has a very good reputation. Not as difficult to reserve a table at. One is located at Palace hotel across from the imperial palace gardens and the other is also around Ginza. Most well-known for its tuna dishes.
Sukiyabashi Jiro – Ginza
Arguably the most internationally famous Sushi-Ya in Tokyo, no doubt by virtue of it appearing in the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. I have never been but friends who have say its reputation truly does precede it.
Sushi Masuda – Aoyama
One of the top sushi-ya in japan. Another 2 Michelin star and difficult to score a reservation. Former Jiro apprentice.
Sushi Saito – Roppongi
One of the top in Tokyo again. 3 Michelin stars.
Yakumo Saryo – Nakameguro
Would be top on the list for next trip. Missed out on this as unfortunately it’s closed on holidays and also the day after a holiday (was marine day when I was there). Traditional Japanese breakfast/lunch and dinners (but difficult to get reservations for dinner so go for lunch or breakfast). Must book. It’s quite far from anywhere and the location is not much of a destination, Nakameguro is predominantly residential. Project of Shinichiro Ogata who was architect for Tokyo Aesop stores.
High-end non-traditional Japanese
Narisawa – Aoyama
Has been one of the top restaurants in Tokyo for a long time. On the top 50 list in the world.
Tirpse – Shinagawa
One of the top restaurants in Tokyo at the moment. More of a French style of cooking.
Casual – Japanese / Non-Japanese
Truffle Omelette (Tamagoyaki) at Sansan
Sansan 和食 燦々- Shibuya
Address is 〒150-0042, 37-15 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042. Not well known and does not appear anywhere in English. Actually walked past here on way to somewhere else and went in, which I would never normally do. Had such a good meal though. Modern and refined Japanese small sharing plates.
Ohitsuzen Tanbo Omotesando Honten おひつ膳田んぼ表参道店 – Aoyama/Ometsando
Casual restaurant which is famous for their rice. Very simple dishes. Can get fish, rice and other condiments. Good lunch destination before/after shopping along Omotesando.
Isetan food hall – Shinjuku
Amazing food hall at basement level of Isetan women’s store, with connecting passage to Men’s store. Lots of great food places here to take back and eat at hotel/apartment. No public eating areas and it’s not considered polite to eat on the street or while walking around! A couple of the French patisserie and chocolate houses like Pierre Hermé and Jean Paul Hévin are here – JPH do good chocolate granitas and ice teas, perfect in summer.
Ahiru Store – Shibuya
Cool Wine Bar located in shibuya closer to Yoyogi park. Serves natural wines and good food.
Napolimania – Shibuya
Has great pizza and Italian food. Italian owners.
Nakanishi – Aoyama
Japanese pub food – izakaya style. Super casual and inexpensive.
Savoy – Minato
Pizza. Was featured on David Chang Ugly Delicious series on Netflix.
Grill Burger Club – Shibuya
Blacows – Burgers
Really good burger. Chips (wedges) are not great though!
T-SITE – Daikanyama
Amazing complex with different eating spots and books and magazines etc.
Kaikaya by the Sea – Shibuya
Split between two separate rooms. Smoking side more fun. Must book. Have not been but heard good things.
Tsukemen at Oborozuki
Tsukemen at Rokurinsha
I’d say it’s best to go at weird times in the afternoon/morning to avoid queues (look at opening times). Last time I was here it was the height of summer so I only focused on getting Tsukemen (cold noodles you dip in fatty rich ramen broth – After noodles finished, you pour light broth into soup part, to water it down. Otherwise it’s too salty and rich.)
Oborozuki 朧月– Ginza
Tsukemen. Only 7 seats and exceptional. Can attract queues. This is my favourite.
Rokurinsha六厘舎 – Ginza (marunouchi, inside Tokyo station)
Tsukemen. Very famous and David Chang has said this is his favourite. However, my pick is the one above – still extremely good. Located in Tokyo station on Yaesu side (Shop R3 on the map on Basement level 1 at the south end of the station). Enter through the Yaesu side that is NOT facing direction of Imperial Palace gardens (Marunouchi side). If you are entering from the Marunouchi side, can take ‘passage to Yaesu side’ at the north end of the station. Rokurinsha is located on the famous ‘ramen street’ inside the station – worth visiting other ones too but this is the most well-known. I went at 4pm and only had to wait 15 minutes.
Fuunji 風雲児 – Shinjuku
Top rated Tsukemen. Known to attract long queues as it only has very few seats. I missed out last time because it was closed on national holiday!
Gogyo 五行 – Ginza
Kogashi ‘Burned’ Miso Ramen.
Nagi – Chain
Good soup ramen.
Afuri – Ebisu/Shibuya and Harajuku/omotesando
Good soup ramen.
Sushi lunch at Tsukiji Tama Sushi Sasashigure
I haven’t eaten a huge amount of sushi in Tokyo ironically because the best sushi-ya are usually extremely difficult to make reservations at – especially with language barriers. It’s worth going to Tsukiji fish market and going to whatever shop has the longest queue, a surprisingly indicative phenomenon in Japan (where there’s smoke, there’s fire! However likely it would be a wait, even for hours). Ryu Zushi at Tsukiji has always been good but, of course, you will need to endure the queue.
Tsukiji Tama Sushi Sasashigure – Omotesando
I had a really good meal here. Wasn’t too expensive – have good lunch specials. They use special organic rice. Located top level of ometesando hills – the main department store on Ometsando avenue designed by Tadao Ando. They get their sushi daily from Tsukiji fish market.
Ryu Zushi – Tsukiji Fish Market
Mikawa Zezankyo みかわ是山居 – Koto
A tempura master and one of the top tempura restaurants in Tokyo. Set menu only and located a few kms east of Ginza.
Ishibashi – Bunkyo (north of Ginza)
A traditional (not inexpensive) restaurant that specialises in Unagi (Eel). A bit away from Ginza or any other area of interest. Eel is traditionally eaten in summer and Ishibashi has a reputation for being one of the best Unagi restaurants in Tokyo. If you like Eel, go here.
Tonkatsu (fried pork)
Tonkatsu at Maisen in Aoyama
Maisen (Tonkatsu Maisen) – Chain (but worth going to original ‘main store’ in Aoyama)
Ridiculously good Tonkatsu. It is considered the best in Tokyo. Lots of both Foreigners and locals. Good place to sample Kurabuta pork – some of the world’s finest from Kagoshima on the southernmost main Island Kyushu. The product of Asian Black Pigs brought from china 400 years ago and a Berkshire pig from Windsor, sent as a gift from Queen Victoria in the 1800s. When the Berkshire touched down in Nagasaki, it decided to elope with some of the Asian Black Pigs and thus the Kurobuta was created. It is what Japanese Kobe is to beef and French Bresse is to Chickens. English food writer Michael Booth suggested a biography be written about Queen Victoria’s original Berkshire.
Katsukichi かつ吉 渋谷店 – Shibuya and Ginza
Has good reputation and meant to be as good as Maisen. Have not been but heard very good things.
Honmura – An – Roppongi
Very well-known soba restaurant in Roppongi. Traditional style soba noodles. Can get them with uni (sea urchin) but this is triple the price! Very good and simple.
Udon Yamacho – Ebisu/Shibuya
Had a good meal here. Casual and cosy.
Café Kitsuné – Aoyama
I love this place. Good coffee and nice atmosphere. Only savoury food option is French toast baguette and ham/cheese baguette.
Satei Hato – Shibuya
High-end coffee. Cool place definitely worth going.
Rag & Bone café – Aoyama
In back street behind the wide part of Avenue Omotesando. Cute three story shop, bottom level has a nice café.
Kakigori (Japanese shaved ice dessert) / Desserts
Kakigori at Yoku Moku
Yoku Moku – Aoyama
My favourite. Very relaxed loungey atmosphere and refined Kakigori. Won’t accumulate the longest queues. Lots of well-dressed people here and ladies of leisure, after enjoying a morning spent in one of the best shopping areas in Tokyo. Has other food but I’d go for kakigori.
Ice monster – Harajuku/Omotesando
Popular place on Omotosando avenue. Haven’t been but well-known.
Yelo – Roppongi
I gave up waiting in the queue but looked fun inside. Probably the best place to get Kakigori in Roppongi.
Hidemi Sugino – Ginza
Master of Mousse cake. Need to go before shop opens.
Higashiya Man – Aoyama
A small and stylish confectionary shop. Very good if you want to sample more traditional Japanese desserts, including the specialty ‘Manju’ steamed buns.